Cradle of Civilizations – Global Times

Iraqi archaeologists and workers use traditionally made clay bricks as they take part in an archaeological expedition to restore the White Temple of Anu at the site of Warka (ancient Uruk) in Iraq’s Muthanna province on the 27th. November 2021 Photo: AFP

After decades of war and insurgency kept them away from Iraq, European archaeologists are making an enthusiastic return in search of ancient cultural treasures.

“Come and see!” a delighted French researcher recently shouted during a dig in the Larsa Desert in southern Iraq, where the team unearthed a 4,000-year-old cuneiform inscription.

“When we find inscriptions like that, in situ, it’s moving,” said Dominique Charpin, professor of Mesopotamian civilization at the College de France in Paris.

The Sumerian inscription was carved on a fired brick in the 19th century BC.

“To the god Shamash, his king Sin-iddinam, king of Larsa, king of Sumer and Akkad,” Charpin translated with ease.

Behind him, a dozen other European and Iraqi archaeologists were working in a cordoned off area where they were digging.

They brushed bricks and removed dirt to clear what appeared to be the pier of a bridge spanning an urban canal in Larsa, which was the capital of Mesopotamia just before Babylon, at the start of the second millennium BC.

“Larsa is one of the largest sites in Iraq, it covers more than 200 hectares”, declared Régis Vallet, researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, at the head of the Franco-Iraqi mission.

The team of 20 people made “major discoveries”, he said, including the residence of a sovereign identified by some sixty cuneiform tablets which have been transferred to the National Museum in Baghdad.

Vallet said that Larsa is like an archaeological playground and a “paradise” for exploring ancient Mesopotamia, which throughout the ages hosted the empire of Akkad, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, Christians, Persians. and Islamic rulers. However, Iraq’s modern history – with its succession of conflicts, especially since the 2003 US-led invasion and its bloody aftermath – has kept foreign scholars out of the country.

It was only since Baghdad declared victory in the territorial battles against ISIS in 2017 that Iraq “has largely stabilized and it is possible again” to go there, explained. Vallet. “The French came back in 2019 and the British a little earlier,” he said. “The Italians came back in 2011.”

At the end of 2021, Vallet said, 10 foreign missions were at work in the province of Dhi Qar, where Larsa is located.

The director of the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage, Laith Majid Hussein, said he was delighted to be the host and happy that his country is back on the map of foreign expeditions.

“It benefits us scientifically,” he told AFP in Baghdad, adding that he welcomes “the opportunity to train our staff after such a long hiatus.”

Near Najaf in central Iraq, Ibrahim Salman of the German Institute of Archeology focuses on the site of the town of Al-Hira.

Germany had previously carried out excavations here which ended with the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Equipped with a geomagnetic measuring device, Salman’s team worked in the ancient Christian city which reached its peak under the Lakhmids, a pre-Islamic tribal dynasty of the 5th and 6th centuries.

“There are indications that a church may have been here,” he said.

Al-Hira is much older than other sites, but it is part of the diverse history of the country which recalls, according to Salman, that “Iraq, or Mesopotamia, is the cradle of civilizations. It’s that simple! “

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